What Is a Wife Entitled to in a Divorce in Washington State?


When a marriage ends in divorce, the issue of property division arises. A prenuptial agreement is not always drawn up before marriage, and spouses are not always able to resolve the question of who gets what amicably, requiring the court’s intervention.

Depending on the specific state laws, all property the couple acquired jointly during the marriage may be divided equally or equitably. Nevertheless, quite a few nuances may affect the outcome. The court considers each situation separately, taking into account all relevant factors. So, predicting the decision in advance is rather impossible.

Washington State follows a community property system, meaning assets acquired during the marriage are generally considered shared and must be split evenly. However, marital property is typically divided equitably in a divorce, taking into account factors like financial contributions, duration of the marriage, and each spouse’s economic circumstances. Spousal support, or alimony, may be awarded based on need and ability to pay. Child-related matters are decided in children’s best interests.

Normally, a husband and a wife have equal personal, parental, and material rights in a divorce. However, each party may be concerned about their specific entitlements and what will happen after the marriage is dissolved. In this article, we have collected the answers to the most crucial questions about what wives are entitled to when getting divorced in Washington State.

What Is a Wife Entitled to with Respect to Asset Division?

In fact, a wife may be entitled to literally anything, just like a husband. However, the share and extent of this entitlement depend on the court’s decision after consideration of certain factors. So, how are assets divided in divorce in Washington State?

Washington is a community-property state that treats all assets and debts acquired during the marriage, irrespective of whose name is on the title, as “community property” belonging to both spouses jointly. Assets and debts acquired by each party separately before the marriage or after the separation or got as a gift or inheritance are separate property belonging to the owner.

According to divorce laws, a husband is left with the separate property he brought into the marriage, a wife gets what is hers, and all the community property’s net value is distributed 50/50 during divorces in Washington State. However, the norm is not applied in every case; joint assets are not always split equally, and some shares of separate possessions can also be divided between spouses. Everything depends on the court’s decision.

Ideally, spouses should negotiate such issues amicably and agree on their own as to who gets what after the end of their marriage. A prenuptial agreement would be a perfect ground for a favorable settlement. Unfortunately, friendly splits are very rare, and prenups are still treated with some preconceptions, necessitating the court’s intervention.

Even though Washington is a community-property state, the courts tend to divide assets according to “just and equitable” distribution principles. So, any item, debt, source of income, or acquired value may be split the way the judge deems fair in your individual case. When making this decision, they consider:

  • Marriage duration;
  • Nature and extent of community and separate property;
  • Each spouse’s economic situation;
  • Custody arrangements;
  • Any other factors the court deems relevant (R.C.W. § 26.09.080).

What Is a Wife Entitled to with Respect to Property Division?

As mentioned above, a wife may be entitled to any share of property, depending on each family’s unique circumstances. However, it is mistaken to think that she will keep a family house as a part of real property since she is the mother. Again, much depends on a range of factors.

Under Washington State divorce laws, the courts try to divide all assets justly and equitably to ensure that each spouse is left with a fair share to maintain a decent standard of living. Therefore, a lot of factors are considered when deciding the fate of marital property, including real estate.

Firstly, the court should determine if your family house falls under community or either party’s separate property. Mind that even separate possessions can become joint if transformed into or mixed with marital ones. For example, the owner could refinance the house in both spouses’ names, making it community property. It may also become community if the mortgage payments were made from your joint family account or the personal account of the non-owner spouse.

If your husband owned the house but you made considerable contributions to it in the form of remodeling, repairing, or making any other improvements, you may be entitled to an interest in the value increase.

In the case of mixed ownership, the court gives preference to the party with the separate property interest when awarding the family home. Yet, other factors may also play a decisive role, such as each spouse’s economic status and the ability to maintain real estate and pay the mortgage. Indeed, the judge will hardly allocate the house to a person who cannot afford it. Besides, since child-related arrangements are also considered, the custodial parent is more likely to get the house if it is in the children’s best interests.

In some cases, the court may order to sell the family home if it is the only way to divide the property fairly and equitably. If you contemplate such an option, reasonably weigh the house’s value, what you owe on it, your income after divorce, and the ability of one of you to maintain and pay for it. If neither you nor your spouse can afford it, it may be better to sell the house and divide the proceeds.

Are Wives Entitled to Child Support in a Washington Divorce?

A wife is entitled to child support if she is a custodial parent. Otherwise, she is obliged to make payments to her ex-spouse.

According to the law, both parents have the legal duty to support their dependent children. So, when you divorce in Washington State with a child or children, the decisions concerning the distribution of their financial maintenance between parents mostly depend on the custody arrangements.

It is typically assumed that the custodial parent already meets the basic support obligations by having the right to primary custody. In other words, a parent with whom kids live spends money on them directly. On the other hand, the parent who spends less than 50% of the time with children should make monthly payments to the other party. If custody is joint and both parents spend an equal amount of time with children and provide them with an equal extent of care, the court may still order one of them to pay child support if their income is much higher. So, the final decision is made according to the Washington State Support Schedule after considering the children’s needs and parents’ incomes.

Are Wives Entitled to Alimony in a Washington Divorce?

Either spouse can be entitled to maintenance, also known as spousal support or alimony, in Washington State. Since these payments serve to maintain the lower-earning spouse’s adequate standard of living after divorce, their award depends on both spouses’ needs and ability to pay. In making decisions on eligibility, duration, and amount of maintenance, the court considers the following factors:

  • Marriage duration;
  • The standard of living during the marriage;
  • Both parties’ financial resources, employability, and earning capacity;
  • Both parties’ age and physical and mental health;
  • Any other relevant factors, including property division, child support, and custody arrangements already made (R.C.W. § 26.09.090).

Are Wives Entitled to Custody of Children in a Washington Divorce?

Both parents are entitled to custody of their children after divorce. However, its extent and all the relevant provisions depend on a range of factors considered by the court when deciding what is in the children’s best interests.

In fact, you will not find Washington State custody laws today since the term is not used anymore. Instead, the state legislature provides for a parenting plan that determines the terms for the residential schedule and decision-making authority.

Therefore, you and your spouse must draft an agreed parenting plan, or two separate plans, to present to the court. The judge will review the proposed plans and issue relevant orders considering children’s well-being and protection from adverse or threatening influences.

FAQs About Wife Entitlement in a Divorce in Washington State

What Are My Rights as a Wife in a Divorce in Washington State?

Your rights in a divorce are governed by the Revised Washington Codes that mandate fair and equitable distribution of all marital assets and consideration of children’s best interests in the related matters. In fact, you may have the entitlements and rights to anything acquired during the marriage in accordance with the law.

How Long Do You Have to Be Married to Get Half of Everything in Washington?

Although marriage duration is one of the factors considered during property division, it is not decisive. A range of other, more important factors will affect the share you will receive after divorce. Moreover, the split can rarely be 50/50.

Can I Get Half of My Husband’s Retirement in a Divorce in Washington?

Since any pension or retirement plans and accounts acquired during the marriage qualify as community property in Washington State, they are subject to division. However, the shares awarded to each party depend on specific circumstances.